OSX: Mounting Digital Cameras, Getting and Deleting Pictures

Initially, these cameras were being used with a WindowsXP box. The camera would be connected via USB to the computer, it would mount as an external drive, the files would be copied to the computer’s hard drive, the files would be deleted from the camera drive and the camera would be unmounted and turned off. When the camera is used to take more photos the compact flash disc would be empty and ready for another shoot.

Well, our department changed a bit and the main photographers for the company were now two OSX users. It seemed like a waste of time to continue using the now vacant WindowsXP box just to pull the files off of the camera. I’m all about diminishing silly myths regarding OSX and its support for external hardware. “Puhshaw! Of COURSE it works with a Mac!”

So, we plugged in the camera and tried it out. Everything worked as expected. Once the files were transferred, we hit the ‘Delete’ button on the finder (or Command-Delete or dragged the files from the camera’s folder to the trash) and unmounted the camera and turned it off. Everything’s cool.

When the next shoot was began however, we realized everything wasn’t cool: the files from the previous shoot were still on the camera. Sort of. There were no existing images to browse through, but the available picture counter wasn’t showing its usually capacity. So, we plugged it back in to the Mac and to our surprise the folders on the camera showed that they had no contents. Where were these mysterious files? Well, an obvious clue if you noticed is that those files you thought you had deleted reappear in the Trash when you remount the camera.

To make a long story short, this is an excellent example of how OSX handles deleting files. It was a little frustrating, but after thinking about the process I realized that it’s really a great method for saving people from deleting the wrong file. Here’s how it works:

When you tell OSX to delete a file on any drive you’ll notice that the files are quickly removed (unless it’s a network drive. In that case, after telling OSX to delete the file you will be reminded that the files will be completely deleted and asked if that is indeed what you had intended.) This process is quick because the files are simply moved to a folder on the same drive named ‘.Trashes’. The specified trashes directory is hidden on every drive. Any file whose name starts with a ‘.’ will be hidden in OSX and all Linux OSes as well. This is a little confusing since anything you trash on any locally mounted drive shows up in the ‘Trash’ on your dock. The Trash would seem to be one location on the computer, but in reality the ‘Trash’ is a collective display of the contents of all .Trashes folders in all locally mounted drives. If you’d like to see these hidden files in Linux it’s usually an option under ‘View’ in the file browser. OSX’s Finder doesn’t have that option for the general user, but it’s easy enough through a simple command in the Terminal or the use of an AppleScript to run the Terminal for you. Anyway, here’s what you need to see hidden files in OSX.

This method works flawlessly as long as your mounted drives do not get moved or unmounted very often. You know that those files won’t be deleted until you remove them from the Trash. So, the secret to working with any digital camera or external drive is to move the old files to the Trash and be sure to empty the Trash before you unmount the camera or drive. That action will completely delete the files. No more mystery files on your camera.

Now, this brings up an issue with using OSX’s Trash as a holding place for files you are not quite ready to completely delete. If you want to delete files from your camera those files will be permanently deleted as well. To avoid interrupting this method of using OSX’s trash I create a folder inside my home folder and I name it ‘Not Quite Trash’. I then drag it to the dock and set it right above the ‘real’ Trash. This way you can still drag files to it just like the ‘real’ Trash. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good.

Finally, I have to say that OSX should probably ask the user about what to do with the contents of the Trash that are associated with any drive they are attempting to unmount. That would make the above post completely unnecessary. However, Xubuntu 6.06 doesn’t even have a trash mechanism. You just delete the file and it’s gone forever. Definitely getting some use out of my ‘Not Quite Trash’ folder on this system.

4 thoughts on “OSX: Mounting Digital Cameras, Getting and Deleting Pictures”

  1. Dude…I so could have helped out..ha…

    Anytime I move photos from the camera to the MAC or to a server I have to drag everything on the camera to the trash and empty the trash before unmounting…then everything is kosher…

    Sometimes XP is good…why do you think bootcamp lives? Ha!

  2. One way to avoid this is to _move_ files from the external drive by holding the apple-key while dragging files. The space on the drive will be directly free. No “empty trash” needed.

  3. @rtl:

    Thanks for the helpful post! I’ll have to try that out at work tomorrow. One of the things about Apple that baffles me is the plethora of undocumented shortcuts and capabilities. It was that way in OS7-9 as well. I get it in the way that, as you become a more advanced user the system has the features you want, but is simplified to the beginning user to avoid overwhelming them. That’s a nice thought, but it falls in line with the one-button mouse philosophy.

    What they need to understand is that the majority of Mac users are using these short cuts to some degree. The people that don’t know anything about computers are usually using Windows, because the higher cost of the Mac doesn’t make sense to them. Now that I’m gung-ho about Linux, OSX is starting to feel misdirected. Or at least, I feel like I am no longer the target audience. The new features that are so celebrated are of no interest to me, generally. What I really want is an updated Finder that has the option to show hidden files and has an ‘up level’ button next to the ‘back’ button.

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